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Japan is developing a vaccine that gives permanent immunity to COVID-19

Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science
Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science. Image: Dick Thomas Johnson, Flickr

In Japan, a vaccine against COVID-19 is in development, which could give the body lifelong immunity. The clinical trials of the drug are scheduled for 2023.

Scientists from the Tokyo Institute of Medical Sciences are working on the vaccine. As a basis for the study, experts took the smallpox vaccine developed in the 18th century, containing a harmless virus variant. The smallpox vaccine was developed by a British doctor Edward Jenner in 1796 against the infectious disease. Smallpox had an extremely high mortality rate.

Scientists hope to create a recombinant vaccinia virus that will include the coronavirus spike protein. This approach is thought to help create lifelong cellular immunity to COVID-19.

A similar method has been applied to mice injected with a recombinant vaccinia virus containing the avian influenza gene. According to the results of the experiments, the animals showed high levels of antibodies, which persisted for more than 20 months.

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer – BioNTech and Moderna have successfully prevented severe illness and death by neutralizing the antibodies significantly over six months after vaccination. This makes boosters necessary — particularly against the omicron variant.

The authors of the development noted the high efficiency of such vaccines and a small number of side effects. The vaccine also does not require special methods of transportation and storage.

The vaccine can be stored for a long-term in a dried form and at room temperature, making it beneficial for developing countries with tropical climates.

According to preliminary information, the first and second phases of clinical trials of the vaccine will be carried out in the first half of 2023 by the Japanese drug manufacturer Nobelpharma.

Funding crunch

Michinori Kohara, the emeritus researcher at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, who leads the research for the vaccines said that funding was the biggest problem.

“The current situation is that we would need to be vaccinated as often as every three or six months, and we would need to make new vaccines whenever new variants of concern pop up,” says Kohara.

“So if our vaccine’s efficacy lasted for even a year, two years or three years, that would translate to huge savings worth trillions of yen to the social infrastructure as a whole. The vaccine also has high cross-immunity to work against many variants, so these two things alone justify making this vaccine,” adds Kohara. 

Speeding up the vaccinations

On December 28, Japan’s Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Shigeyuki Goto, said that the country’s government plans to accelerate the process of vaccinating people over 65 years of age with third (booster) doses against coronavirus infection.

As of December 27, 78.3% of the total —126 million people — of the Japanese population had already received two vaccine doses.

On December 9, a study by Japanese scientists noted that the Omicron coronavirus strain is transmitted from individual to individual 4.2 times more often than the Delta strain. Japanese scientists analyzed Omicron genome data from the residents of the Gauteng province in northern South Africa. The results show that this strain is transmitted more quickly while eluding immunity. 

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